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New law will bring harsher punishments for animal cruelty in Washington

Repeat offenders could now face up to five years in prison

The Washington State Capitol Building in November 2023 in Olympia. A new law will enforce stricter punishments for animal cruelty cases in the state. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)
By Jemma Alexander News Intern

Legal punishments for first-degree animal cruelty in Washington state will be harsher and more consistent starting June 6.  

Supported by Skagit County Deputy Prosecutor Nathaniel Block, House Bill 1961 will raise the maximum sentencing from one year to five, and consider past crimes and the severity of the animal cruelty when sentencing.  

Previously, those convicted of animal cruelty could face a minimum of zero days in prison and a maximum of 12 months, no matter how many cases were brought against them, Block said. 

First time offenders could now get 30–60 days in jail. Prolific animal abusers or those who commit especially egregious crimes could now face up to five years in prison. 

Animals previously were not being treated as individual creatures, but as property, Block said.  

He pointed to a recent animal cruelty case involving the death of 72 cows due to neglect. Another case involved a puppy mill where 443 dogs were removed and 135 had emergency health and medical issues. 

“It didn’t matter how many counts of animal cruelty were charged. We could have charged 100 counts, and it still would have been zero to 365 days in jail,” Block said.  

Studies have shown that “individuals that abuse animals are statistically more likely to eventually commit domestic violence,” Block said.  

The FBI’s Law Enforcement Bulletin states that animal cruelty is a predictor of current and future violence, including sexual violence.  


Judges have held a lot of discretion when it comes to animal cruelty, said 39th District Rep. Sam Low, a sponsor of the bill. There were a lot of plea deals and inconsistency between counties, he said.  

First-degree animal cruelty was already a Class C felony, which is punishable by up to five years in jail or a $10,000 fine, but is now a ranked felony in the Washington state sentencing guideline grid. The felony is ranked seriousness level three, stated a news release from Low.  

When a felony is unranked, those convicted can face a range of zero to 365 days in prison. Felony rankings provide a range of time a person may face jail time.  

“It creates a clear framework and guidelines on how those crimes will be sentenced and how much jail time each person would get,” said Brenna Anderst, education and advocacy director with Pasado’s Safe Haven. The animal sanctuary investigates, reports and works to prevent animal cruelty.  

Low worked with Pasado’s Safe Haven to craft the bill during the 2023 interim. 

“Inconsistency in sentencing benefits abusers because they know they can exploit gaps in the legal system, escaping appropriate punishment for their crimes,” Low said in the release. Pasado’s wanted to make a law that provided clarity to judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys throughout the state. 

“These aren’t normal behaviors for humans,” Anderst said. “That why things like this really need to be addressed because it is dangerous, and it is violent.”  

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